Do you want to kill a product? Have a CEO and product manager with different ideas for where it’s going. If you’re lucky, the disagreement gets resolved and things get back on track. If not, your company dies a million deaths as the power struggle gets played out in the product itself. Everybody loses, users most of all.
More than anyone else at the company, it’s essential that the CEO and the PM be on the same page (or in the case of a bigger company, a general manager or senior product leader). Remember the Vulcan Mind-Meld from Star Trek? That’s where Mr. Spock could touch someone’s head and share their thoughts telepathically. Yeah, it’s like that. Here’s some advice for putting this into practice (without all of the face touching).
Talk about the future. A good Product CEO spends most of their mental energy in the product’s future, not its present. Their vision will change and evolve, and both the PM and the CEO need to stay in sync. The PM needs to keep the team aiming at this north star. Ask the CEO where the product will be in five years or ten years (the best product CEOs will treat those as two separate questions  ).
Frequent one-on-ones with the CEO. Ideally the CEO and PM are meeting one-on-one weekly. In a smaller company, this should be easy to accomplish. (And don’t let anything get in their way.) Regular private time allows both of you to share unformed ideas, to debate when you disagree, and for you both to share what you’ve learned from your team, your customers, and the product. PMs shouldn’t have to piece together the CEO’s strategy from scattered pieces of cuneiform, they should hear it directly, and regularly.
Find those third rails. There are certain areas of the product that the CEO will be most opinionated and passionate about. The CEO will need to be more involved in these details. Knowing where these “third rails” are will help the PM avoid surprises and front-load debate before code is written.
Make sure the conversation goes both ways. PMs shouldn’t just be the CEO’s implementation lackey. CEOs should listen as much as they talk. PMs shouldn’t restrict the conversation to tactical updates on progress, but about their vision for the future too. After the mind meld you should share thoughts, but not a brain.
“My mind to your mind… my thoughts to your thoughts…” – Mr. Spock
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